Tim Hendrix writes: “Joe, I have a couple of dog questions. I had to leave my house last week because of impending tornados and my dog, Rhet, companion of 13 years, had a seizure in the car and I had to have him euthanized 2 days later. I lost his sister 2 years ago and it kills me to go through the experience. When I tell people that I stay with my pets through the procedure they think I’m crazy. They wonder how I can put myself through that. My thinking is that being with friend of 13 years during his last moments is damn near an obligation and I think it’s pretty gutless to just walk away because it’s a difficult experience. You seem to be a great dog parent and I just wondered what your take is. The possibility does exist that I’m totally out to lunch on this and have lost touch with reality. Also, I had stated many times after I lost Scully, Rhet’s sister that he would be the last dog I’d ever own. His care and upkeep the last couple of years were exhausting. He was deaf and nearly blind and needed help with everything but I don’t regret the effort at all. I now find the emptiness almost unbearable. I’ve had canine companions for 13 years and I find I don’t know what to do with myself. Friends and relatives seem to think this is a bad time to decide on a new dog. Your thoughts would be appreciated.”
Answer: Let me preface my response by repeating one of my long-held beliefs – that those who like dogs are generally good-hearted people, while those who don’t are jerks at best and serial killers at worst. Having said that, there are very good reasons why some may prefer not to own a dog. Hell, to be perfectly honest, I never wanted one – surprising given that I now have four of them. It wasn’t that I didn’t like dogs. Quite the opposite. I loved them. But I respected them enough to know they were needy creatures that required a lot of attention. Unlike some of the douchebag fairweather pet guardians I’ve had the displeasure of knowing over the years, I see dogs as a full-time commitment – which is why, some thirteen years ago, when my wife told me she wanted to get a dog, I strongly objected. But she was persistent and, eventually, I gave in and we welcomed our first dog. That was Jelly –
And you know what? I was right. She turned out to be a huge responsibility. But I didn’t mind because I loved her and she was our one and only.
Until my wife started thinking that, maybe, Jelly could use a companion. I, of course, tried to shoot down the idea immediately. One dog was more than enough. I couldn’t imagine taking care of two. We argued and, again, I lost the argument. And so, we ended up getting Maximus –
And having two pugs proved doubly demanding. But I didn’t mind because they were my dogs and I loved them.
We got Maximus from a breeder but Jelly was a pet shop buy, purchased before we knew any better. While I would never again buy a dog from a pet store, I don’t regret getting Jelly because I know that there is no way she could have ended up in a better home or lived a better life. And the same goes for all my dogs. Like our third pug, Bubba –
Who was supposed to be a present for my wife’s brother. But, in keeping him those two weeks before we dropped him off in Montreal, I felt for Bubba what I’d felt for Jelly (and Maximus): that no matter how wonderful the person I’d be leaving him with, Bubba would be far, far better off with me. And so, this time I was the one to make the executive decision. We kept Bubba and my wife’s brother got a toaster oven instead.
Three dogs was a lot more work than two, but I didn’t mind because, again, they were my dogs and I loved them.
And when my wife decided she wanted to get a french bulldog, I already knew exactly what was in store and rather than argue, I saved my energy for the long drive to Langley were we picked up our latest addition, Lulu –
Crazy? Maybe. Demanding? You bet! But, eventually, I got used to it. In those last few years on Stargate, we had a little routine going. Every morning I would wake up and take the dogs out, then feed them, then drop them off at doggy daycare. Every evening, I would pick them up from daycare, bring them home, feed them, and take them out for their last walk of the night. I would make sure they got their supplements, take them to the vet, and administer the tacrolimus medicinal gel directly onto their eyeballs. Eventually, when Jelly’s hips got too bad and Maximus’s knees to weak, I would carry them up and down the stairs. When my wife and I separated, my first concern wasn’t the house or any cash assets – it was the dogs. And, fortunately, I got to keep them and the five of us made the best of things, settling in each night – Jelly on the pillow to my left, Bubba on the pillow to my right, Maximus at my feet, and Lulu right beside me. FINALLY dogs were allowed on the bed!
Tim, I can empathize. People will tell you you’re nuts. That they’re only dogs; not people! But I’ve discovered something, a secret that many a dog owner is privy to as well: That dogs aren’t people. More often than not, they’re better. Unlike most folks who pass through your life making little if any impression, or prove themselves to complete and utter asses, dogs are special. They’re loyal. They’re loving and lovable. They’re possessed of personalities that make them unique and endlessly entertaining. And all they ask in return is that we take care of them, from the time they enter our homes as big-eyed little runts who can’t recognize themselves in a mirror to the time they leave it for that final journey. It’s a trifling request given the years of affection, amusement, and unquestioning allegiance they offer in return over the course of their all-too-short lives.
So, to finally answer your question – No, you’re not out to lunch for caring for your long-time companion and wanting to be with them in their final moments.
One of my biggest regrets in life is the fact that I wasn’t able to do the same for our family dog. The night after he’d been hit by a car, we went to visit him at the animal hospital on our way to my high school band recital. His hindquarters had been paralyzed in the accident and yet, upon spotting us, he immediately perked up and started barking excitedly. Unfortunately, he was in bad shape and the decision was made to put him to sleep. We said our goodbyes and then headed off to the recital. To this day, I’m haunted by what our dog must have thought as we walked out that door, or during those final few lonely moments of his life. We should have been there for him.
That experience has admittedly influenced my decisions regarding Jelly these past two years. My gal has been suffering from hip dysplasia and arthritic elbows and shoulders that make walking very difficult. Last summer, her condition deteriorated to the point where her back legs could no longer support her. I consulted various vets and made my decision. Jelly underwent stem cell therapy followed by spinal surgery. Those surgeries cost me more than my annual Tokyo trip and, even though there were no guarantees the procedures would be successful, I decided to go ahead with them because, at the very least, I’d know I did everything I could for her. And, at the end of the day, I’m pleased to report that they WERE successful and, although she still has trouble getting around, Jelly is able to squat and take care of business like she used to. Obviously, not every dog owner can afford to pay for this kind of medical treatment – nor would many choose to even if they could – but it’s something I was able to do for her and I’m glad I did.
On a recent visit to an animal hospital here in Toronto, the vet examined Jelly and, in going over her recent behavior (waking up in the middle of the night, crying), suspected she may be suffering from cognitive dissonance, what he termed an early form of canine alzheimer’s. Aside from those isolated incidents, she seems otherwise unchanged, her usual playful, bossy, vocal, hungry self. But I know that things can change very quickly and, when the time comes, I will be there for her.
I can’t tell you whether you should get another dog. That decision is yours. But, given their relatively short life spans, I have given some thought to what I would do if I eventually found myself alone (as opposed to me kicking off early and the four of them cashing in on my premature demise to the tune of kurobuta pork breakfasts and kobe beef dinners well into their twilight years). And I decided that, after a short period in which to properly mourn them, I probably would get another dog – or maybe two – or more – because, like I said, for all the love and humor and companionship they’ll provide, I’ll compensate them with a home life very few can offer.
And I’m sure you can say the same.